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Problems with Utilitarian and Kantian Ethics.

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Introduction

Problems with Utilitarian and Kantian Ethics. The issue in question is one with regards to morality, the problem of answering such questions as how does one live the good life? What is the good? How does one determine which actions are right and which actions are wrong? It is interesting from the get go that humans seek to answer these questions, one could assume that our own intuition could answer these questions for us, or turn to the respective religions that are overflowing with rules of morality and life laws. Nevertheless, throughout history theorists and philosophers alike have attempted to answer these questions through analysis and occasionally under the influence of their particular religions as well. Today we study a range of philosophies from Plato to Peter Singer, and in most cases we find that the moment a theory seems to be adaptable and just to our own lives, a flaw surfaces and is usually followed by many more which make us question our faith in such a theory initially. Kantian ethics and utilitarianism do just that. The biggest debate in ethics today seems to be between Kant's categorical imperative and the utilitarian's greatest happiness principle. To realistically examine these theories we must recognize that there are significant problems with both ideas, which lead us back to the questions we started with. It is apparent however, that alternatives to these two conflicting schools of thought have been offered. One example is that of WD Ross who proposes some inclinations as to how both theories may be used and how certain aspects of them must be discarded at the outset. ...read more.

Middle

a moral theory in this manner because humans are an ever unpredictable, evolving species feeling and experiencing different things in different ways all the time. Kant's moral theory or deontology has similar problems regardless of how much it differs from utilitarianism. In the case of deontology the problem lies with the matter of intentions. Kantian ethics maintain that the intentions one has are all that matter when placed with arduous moral choices. At the base of Kantian ethics is his categorical imperative, which is a set of rules that outline "that only the good will, a will to act out of a sense of duty, has unqualified moral worth."3 The categorical imperative simply, is this: "Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."4 And that we should never treat anyone as a means to an end. According to Kantian ethics there are universal moral laws, which we must follow unconditionally. There are many problems with this, and first and foremost I feel that Kant is trying to place a one-dimensional theory of ethics on a three-dimensional world full of unexpected incidents. Humans have proven time and time again to be extremely unpredictable and the nature of the earth doesn't help either. By the nature of the earth I mean the unexpected, unexplained happenings that occur and do not cease to surprise us. Kant's theory is too authoritative for us to adopt and positively function with. ...read more.

Conclusion

The problem of morality is clearly one that requires much thought, questioning and general brainwork. There are so many writings on the topic, it's possible to lose one's self in all of it. Of all the things I have made it clear how utilitarianism fails as an ethical theory, it is too demanding of us, it is unjust, it allows for us to enter the virtual reality world of the experience machine and lastly that the question of personal preference cannot be addressed when approaching ethics in this manner. It has also been made clear why Kant's deontology isn't workable, hard laws and rules about how to conduct one's life don't solve problems, the world is too unpredictable, which also brings us to the next point that Kant's theory doesn't do well when presented with hard choices, the trolley for example. Utilitarianism's reliance on consequence and Kant's on intention is where both theories find their major downfall, because as they display for each other both must be taken into consideration. Ross's intuitionism brings a little clearing to the murky waters of morality and Frankena as well, raises many valuable points in "A Reconciliation of Ethical Theories" which leads us to believe then that morality is plainly a contextual matter and also a personal one. We need to approach each situation with caution and empathy and use our best-felt judgment when faced with tough choices, while keeping in mind that there are things that are wrong and right which are usually innate to each and every one of us. ...read more.

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